Katz v. U.S.

Following is the case brief for Katz v. U.S., United States Supreme Court, (1967)

Case summary for Katz v. U.S.:

  • Katz was convicted under a federal gambling statute, after introduction of Katz’ wire-tapped statements were introduced into evidence despite his objections.
  • Katz challenged the conviction claiming it was an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
  • The Court held that Katz was protected under the Fourth Amendment once he entered the phone booth and shut the door. In addition, the Court held that the wire-tapping of Katz’ conversation was a search and seizure.

Katz v. U.S. Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Katz was charged with violating gambling laws under the federal statutes, specifically transmitting wagering information by telephone across state lines. Recorded evidence of a phone conversation was introduced despite Katz’ objection. This conversation was recorded at a phone booth that police wire tapped prior to Katz placing his call. Katz was convicted and appealed to the court of appeals.

Procedural History:

The court of appeals upheld the lowers court’s judgment and Katz appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Recordings and conversations receive Fourth Amendment protection under the prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Issue and Holding:

Whether a wire-tapping by the FBI constitutes a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment? Yes.


The Court reversed the court of appeal’s decision.


The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from illegal government intrusion and was not constructed with the intent to provide constitutional protections to certain places. The Court held that wire-tapping a phone booth is a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, despite the fact no physical invasion took place.

Here, Katzs assuming his phone conversation would remain private is justified, even though the phone booth is utilized for public use. The Court held that as a result, Katz was protected under the Fourth Amendment, after he entered the phone booth and shut the door. The Court also held the unjustified recording of Katz’ phone conversation equates to a search and seizure.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (Harlan):

The appropriate standard for determining whether or not the Fourth Amendment protects a person from unreasonable searches and seizures, is whether or not the individual has a subjective expectation of privacy that society views as reasonable.

Concurring (White):

The warrantless wiretapping of a private conversation inside a public phone booth was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment in this case. Although the majority reached the correct ruling it failed to conclude that a warrant is not required if the attorney general or president believed wiretapping was reasonable for the purposes of national security.

Concurring (Douglas):

Justice White’s concurrence grants too much discretion to the executive branch. The president and attorney general participate in the adversarial process. They both investigate and prosecute those who violate national security laws. Under the concept of separation of powers an uninterested magistrate should decide whether wire-tapping is reasonable.

Dissenting (Black):

The Fourth Amendment does not encompass wire-tapping as a search and seizure. The founders of the Constitution clearly intended the amendment to apply only to tangible things. Since a conversation is not tangible and wire-tapping includes future conversations not yet in existence, it cannot be included under the Fourth Amendment.


The Fourth Amendment of our Constitution provides protections to individuals, not particular places. This case influenced requirements regarding wire-tapping a conversation after wire-tapping was classified as a search and seizure.

Student Resources:


Welcome all discussions


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Notify of